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Reformed Church in America. Overture on the Ordination of Women.

Reformed Church in America

Overture on the Ordination of Women (1970)
Resolution on the Ordination of Women (1971)
Overture on Non-Participation the Ordination of Women (1973)
Dispensation for Joyce Stedge (1973)
Report and Recommendation of the President’s Consultation (1974)
Rulings on Ordination of Women (1979)
Resolution on Women's Ordination (1980)

Overture on the Ordination of Women (1970)

35. CLASSIS OF RARITAN, Show Biblical Cause re Women on Consistory

At the regular meeting of Classis Raritan, held on January 27, 1970 at 7:30 PM. in the High Bridge Reformed Church in High Bridge, New Jersey, the Rockaway Reformed Church of Whitehouse Station reported that its congregation had elected female elders and deacons to the consistory. The Middlebush Reformed Church reported they had done the same and had in fact ordained female elders and deacons to their respective offices.

At the same January 27 meeting the following motion was moved, supported, discussed and voted upon:

that the Classis of Raritan sustains the actions of the Rockaway Reformed Church and the Middlebush Reformed Church in electing and ordaining women to the office of Elder and the office of Deacon; and the Classis of Raritan OVERTURES GENERAL SYNOD TO SHOW CAUSE FROM BIBLICAL AUTHORITY WHY THESE CONGREGATIONS SHOULD NOT HAVE TAKEN THESE ACTIONS.

Two study papers were presented in support of this overture. These papers, too lengthy to publish, are in the hands of the Review Committee on Overtures.

35. CLASSIS OF RARITAN, Show Biblical Cause re Women on Consistory

By way of background, it should be reported that the Particular Synod of New Jersey took the following action on May 5, 1970:

Whereas the Reformed Church in America has again voted down the ordination of women by having a majority of 29 classes vote for it and only 16 against it; and

Whereas a classis under the jurisdiction of PSNJ, namely the Classis of Raritan, has sustained the action of two churches under its jurisdiction, the action being the election and ordination of women to the office of elder and deacon; and

Whereas the Classis of Raritan has overtured the General Synod of the RCA to show cause from Biblical authority why these churches should not have elected and ordained women to the office of elder and deacon;

I therefore move that PSNJ take action to keep this issue before the RCA by sustaining the action of Classis Raritan and by informing the General Synod of the RCA, before or on the day of its next meeting, that PSNJ supports the overture of Classis Raritan which deals with the Ordination of women.

While the “reasons” given for this overture plainly state that the Rockaway Reformed Church of Whitehouse Station and the Middlebush Reformed Church have ordained female elders and deacons, and while this is admittedly in violation of the Book of Church Order, this is not the question before the committee or the Synod at this time. The question before us is whether or not the General Synod can show cause from Biblical Authority why these congregations should not have taken these actions.

The Committee appointed a sub-committee to review the actions of General Synod which would relate to this matter. The most definitive statement is found in the Minutes of General Synod 1958, p. 328ff., which is a report of a Committee on the Ordaining of Women. This report was adopted by Synod. It plainly states that there is no Biblical cause for withholding ordination from women. To the best knowledge of the Committee, there is no other action of Synod at any time that would deny the offices to women on Biblical grounds. The essential contention of the Classis of Raritan is that the Book of Church Order is inconsistent with itself in restricting ordination as ministers, elders and deacons to men. The Preamble to the Book of Church Order states that, “The Holy Scriptures are the only rule of faith and practice in the Reformed Church in America.” The Classis of Raritan would contend that the prohibition of women from the ordained offices of the church is not Biblical.

The contention might be made that since the Book of Church Order was written limiting the ordained offices to men, that therefore this constituted an interpretation of Scripture. This argument is weakened by the fact that Synod, in 1958, agreed that there was no Biblical cause for denying these offices to women. Therefore, we must agree that, according to the official actions of Synod to this date, there is no cause from Biblical authority why these congregations should not have taken these actions.

It is beyond the scope of the committee to suggest judgmental action concerning this matter, even though it is apparent that the Rockaway Reformed Church and the Middlebush Reformed Church are in admitted violations of the Book of Church Order. This violation is a disruption of the orderly process within the church and contributes to consternation in the church. It is the opinion of the committee that this violation should not serve as precedent in future procedures by the Classis of Raritan in this matter.

WE RECOMMEND no action. (ADOPTED).

Notes: Included here are both the overture from the Classis of Raritan and the response of the Committee on Overtures. In 1970, tensions over the ordination issue were heightened when two different congregations elected female deacons and elders. The Committee on Overtures was pressed to provide biblical authority for the rule against female deacons and elders, but was unable to do so. It did restate that the ordination that had already taken place were against church order and should not be taken as precedents.

Also in 1970, the Christian Action Commission issued a statement supporting the equality of women and their participation in ordained offices. These 1970 actions continued the now almost yearly stream of overtures in support of women’s ordination. That stream included a 1964 overture that failed at the Synod meeting, a 1967 overture supported by the Theological Commission that failed in a church-wide vote, and another in 1968 that failed at the synod meeting. There were a number of overtures in 1969 that resulted in two churchwide votes; one to ordain women as ministers of the Word failed by four votes, and one to ordain women as deacons and elders failed by two votes.

Resolution on the Ordination of Women (1971)

It was noted that 28 out of 44 classes had voted in favor of an amendment (Part II, Article 2, Section 8) to permit churches to ordain and install men ’and women as elders and deacons. Inasmuch as this was so close to expressing the needed two-thirds majority (30) and since this General Synod again confirmed with enthusiasm and joy the valuable contributions the women make to the work of the church, a motion was made from the floor that the General Synod of 1971 adopt the following as an amendment of the Government of the Reformed Church in America, as a rewording of Part I, Article 2, Section 9a and recommend it to the classes for their approval:

“Elders and deacons shall be chosen from the members of the church in full communion who are at least twenty-one years of age.” (ADOPTED)

Notes: The 1970 proposal to permit women to be ordained as deacons and elders failed to capture the 30 votes necessary to meet the required 213 majority, but since the vote was close, it was once again adopted for a church-wide vote. This time the historic moment was realized, and in 1972 the amendment received exactly the 30 votes necessary for passage. Although this was a watershed in the Reformed Church’s long struggle with the issue, the story was not yet complete. The Reformed Church has three types of ordination, and new, debate focused on ordination as "minister of the Word.”


Overture on Non-Participation the Ordination of Women (1973)

37.Non-participation in Election/Ordination/Installation of Women to Office Particular Synod of Michigan.

Whereas, the General Synod of 1972 has adopted a declaratory act in order to give final approval to an amendment to the Book of Church Order which will permit the election of women as elders and deacons;

Therefore, the Particular Synod of Michigan overtures the General Synod, asking that, since the declaratory act is approved, the General Synod also approve a further amendment to the Book of Church Order, sending it to the classes for their concurrence, to amend Part I, Article II, Section 11, of the Book of Church Order, to add the following:

“No one who, by reason of conscience, cannot participate in the election, ordination, or installation of women to church offices, shall be expected to do so.”

Reasons:

  1. We recognize that many sincere Christians have been convinced over the centuries, and continue to be convinced today, that the Scriptures require that those who hold office in the church shall be men. And we do not sense that the process by which the RCA has altered its commitment to this historic position has been one of extensive theological study and developing consensus:

    a. The General Synod has had no theological study of the question laid before it since the publication in 1958 of a booklet of short articles, written by members of a special committee.

    b. At successive General Synods, there has been a variety of approaches to this question. The 1967 Synod sent to the Classes an amendment admitting women to all three offices of the church: minister of the Word, elder, and deacon. The Synod of 1969 sent a proposal approving the ordination of women only to the offices of elder and deacon. The Synod of 1970 sent an amendment empowering each Classis to decide whether women should be admitted to the three offices. And the Synod of 1971 has sent a proposal allowing women to be ordained as elders and deacons.

    c. Over the past few years, the approach used by advocates of women’s ordination has often been to urge Classis members, in spite of their personal convictions, to relent and vote for a change which will let others have the right to elect women to the offices. This argument has been advanced by the President of General Synod, by various women’s organizations, and by writers in the Church Herald, and we believe it has had some effect on the eventual outcome

  2. The drive for “equality” for women in the church could be carried to the place where a certain number of positions must be held by women. In the United Presbyterian Church, the Presbyteries have approved a constitutional amendment which, in effect, requires that half the elders and deacons in a congregation shall be women.
  3. We are aware that the great majority of our sister denominations, Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox, not only in the United States but around the world, do not presently accept the ordination of women in church offices. Therefore, we believe it is reasonable for those who continue to share that conviction to have assurance that the Reformed Church will not allow situations to develop where anyone is expected to do that which is contrary to Scripture as he understands it. Rather, provision should be made so that anyone may legally decline to assist in the election, ordination, or installation of women to offices of government in the church, on the grounds of conscience.
  4. In Christian charity, we must assume that the objection to the ordination of women is not on the basis of “male chauvinism” but on an understanding of Scriptural principles. Therefore, we feel the Reformed Church should accept in love and with respect those who continue to maintain such a view.

We recommend no action. (ADOPTED)

Non-participation by reason of conscience could be referred to many situations in life; one is always free to take such a course and to accept the consequences. Therefore, we do not believe that this one situation should be singled out to be provided with an amendment to the Book of Church Order.

Notes: This 1973 overture asks for the provision of a conscientious objection clause for those who do not wish to participate in the ordination of women. This was denied. The irony of this overture is that similar wording would reappear in the 1980 "Proposal to Maintain Peace in Diversity in the RCA Concerning Women as Church Officers,” as a key strategy in getting final legislation passed.

Dispensation for Joyce Stedge (1973)

The following requests for Dispensations were reviewed by the Board of Theological Education. Except in those instances specifically indicated, the recommendation of the Review Committee is identical with the recommendation of the Board.

R-6 We RECOMMEND that a dispensation not be granted to Elder Jacob Vander Meer. (ADOPTED)

R-7 We RECOMMEND that a dispensation from the academic requirement be granted to Elder Gilbert Van Beek and Elder Henry Vander Bilt. (ADOPTED) (The Board of Theological Education recommended that a dispensation not be granted in these two instances.)

R-8 We RECOMMEND that a dispensation from the professorial certificate not be granted to Martin Batts, Guy Safford and Norman J. Mol(ADOPTED)

R-9 We RECOMMEND that dispensations from the professorial certificate be granted to Fred Herwaldt, Roy Ackermann, Frank Boerema, Donald De Kok, Donald Ringnalda, Jack D. Ritsema, Charles Van Engen, James Beukelman and Joyce Stedge.

’The consideration and actions on Recommendations R-9 were as follows:

A motion was made and seconded to adopt Recommendation R-9. An amendment was made and seconded to consider the granting of a dispensation from the professorial certificate to Mrs. Joyce Stedge separately.

A question was raised as to the constitutionality of the application of the Rockland-Westchester Classis and the recommendation of the Board of Theological Education relating to granting a dispensation from the professorial certificate to Mrs. Joyce Stedge. A ruling by the President was requested.

President Harry De Bruyn, after presenting reasons based on his interpretation of the BOOK OF CHURCH ORDER, ruled that the application and the recommendation were within the provisions of the constitution. (BOOK OF CHURCH ORDER, Part II, The Classis, Article 8, Section 8, p. 21, 22)

An appeal to the decision of the chair was made and seconded. Division of the house was requested. The vote was Yes - 152; No - 83) to sustain the ruling of the chair. The amendment to consider the granting of a dispensation from the professorial certificate to Mrs. Joyce Stedge separately was LOST.

Recommendation R-9 was ADOPTED.

*The following delegates, upon permission of the Chairman, recorded their votes as being against the granting of a dispensation from the professorial certificate for Mrs. Joyce Stedge:

John H. Alberts (Zeeland) John Lucasse (North Grand Rapids)
Cornelius Alkema, Jr. (South Grand Rapids) John Luinstra (California)
Frank J. Bahr (Raritan) Sylvester Moths (West Sioux)
William Boersma (Holland) Clarence Norman (Illiana)
James S. Boogerd (California) Eugene Osterhaven (Western Seminary)
Richard Brower (Zeeland) Maurice Paterik (Chicago)
Theodore Chandler (Bergen) Herman Rosenberg (North Grand Rapids)
Sam Cnossen (California) William Rosenberg (Pleasant Prairie)
Jerome De Jong (Illiana) James Sieperda (California)
Dennis De Korver (Muskegon) David Smits (Zeeland)
Robert Gowens (Illiana) Harold E. Snyder, Sr. (Raritan)
B. Daniel Hakken (South Grand Rapids) Richard Stadt (Illiana)
Louis Halbersma (Wisconsin) Tom Stark (South Grand Rapids)
David Hanson (Wisconsin) Lester Ter Louw (Chicago)
Hans Harder (Passaic) Henry Teune (Ontario)
Martin Hoekman (North Grand Rapids) Raymond J. Teusink (Cascades)
John Hoekstra (Wisconsin) John Tiggelaar (Zeeland)
Clarence Hoven (Pella) Arnold Van Beek (Zeeland)
Ralph Houston (Illinois) Everett Vander Weerd (California)
Lambert Idema (South Grand Rapids) Alfred Van Dyke (Illiana)
Maurice Koets (South Grand Rapids) John Van Ham (Holland)
Dirk J. Kolenbrander (Pella) Donald Veenendaal (Wisconsin)
Mino Kooi (Illinois) John Verhoog (Zeeland)
Paul Lanninga (Chicago) William Wagenaar (North Grand Rapids)
B. Howard Legters (Rochester)  

Notes: This decision to grant dispensation from the professorial certificate to a woman, Joyce Stedge, was the cause of considerable unrest throughout the following year. According to the Book of Church Order, a professorial certificate (or dispensation from one) "entitles" one to an examination for licensure and ordination. The professorial certificate, now usually called Certificate of Fitness for Ministry, is the last step prior to ordination, and signifies completion of academic and other requirements for ministry. As in this example, dispensations are typically given to a number of persons every year for reasons ranging from lack of sufficient number of units in Hebrew or Greek to completion of less than the required 24 months supervision of a senior pastor. In any case, the dispensation means that the technical requirements were not met for ordination, but that the rules have been waived in this instance. There were a number of interpretations of what it meant in the case of a woman. Some believed it to mean that Stedge could be ordained, and in fact she was ordained four months later, in October.

Report and Recommendation of the President’s Consultation (1974)

At the 1973 General Synod a dispensation from the professorial certificate was granted to Mrs. Joyce Stedge. (MGS, 1973, p. 36, 37, R-9). Clarification was requested at that General Synod relating to the ordination of women as ministers of the Word in light of the action which had been taken. A response was made by Harry De Bruyn, President of General Synod, and by Marion de Velder, General Secretary, giving their opinion that the action of the 1973 General Synod, interpreting the word ‘persons’ in the Book of Church Order as meaning both men and women, gave permission to Mrs. Joyce Stedge to preach before Reformed Church congregations (as a licensed candidate), but that this does not for the necessarily mean that the door has been opened for women to become ministers of the Word within the Reformed Church. This was reported in the July 13, 1973, issue of the Church Herald.

A proposed amendment to Part I, Article 1, Section 3 to the Book of Church Order was adopted by the General Synod and was sent down to the classes for their approval. The Synod, when it adopted this amendment, requested that a cover letter be included with the amendments “informing the classes of the interpretation taken by the 1973 General Synod.”

In October, 1973, Joyce Stedge was licensed and ordained as a Minister of the Word by the Classis of Rockland-Westchester and installed as Minister of the Word and pastor of the Rochester Reformed Church, Accord, New York by the Mid-Hudson Classis. A number of overtures and complaints were subsequently received relating to the ordination and installation. In order to clarify the situation, a meeting with the Executive Committees of the Rockland-Westchester and Mid-Hudson Classes was held on January 23, with Donald De Young, President of General Synod, and Marion de Velder, General Secretary.

At its February meeting, the GSEC authorized the President to call a consultation of representatives from the whole denomination, including chairmen or representatives from the Christian Action Commission, the Theological Commission, Church Government Committee, and Judicial Business Committee, GSEC representatives, 1974 General Synod delegates, and Particular Synod representatives.

The Consultation was held on April 16-17, 1974 with 49 representatives participating. The General Synod Executive Committee at its April 17 and 18 meeting adopted the following advisory statement which had been adopted by members of the Consultation:

Advisory Statement to the General Synod Executive Committee

The questions relating to the ordination of women to the office of the minister of the Word arising out of the 1973 General Synod have been under a continuing review by the General Synod Executive Committee, which has been deeply involved in the effort to clarify the situation and to maintain peace, unity and good order within the church.

The General Synod Executive Committee authorized a President’s Consultation, representing a broad spectrum of the church. It became clear to the Consultation that the decisions of the General Synod of 1973 relative to the questions of women and the office of the minister of the Word were understood in a variety of ways by the delegates to the General Synod and by the church, among which were the following:

Some members of the church believe that the actions of General Synod in granting a dispensation from the professorial certificate to a woman opened the office of the minister of the Word to women.

Others believe that this action of General Synod opened the minister of the Word only to that one woman.

Others believe that all offices of the ministry were opened to men and women by the deletion of the word "male” from the BOOK OF CHURCH ORDER in 1972 (Part 1, Article 2, Section 9a).

Other believe that the amendment to substitute "members” for "persons” was evidence that classes must vote a change in the BOOK OF CHURCH ORDER before women may be ordained to the office of the minister of the Word.

We regret the pain and confusion which have resulted from these differences of interpretation. Because of these honest differences and the attendant confusion and lack of resolution concerning this issue in the mind of the church, the President’s Consultation advises the General Synod Executive Committee to recommend that:

THE GENERAL SYNOD OF 1974 ADOPT AND REFER TO THE CLASSES FOR THEIR APPROVAL AN AMENDMENT TO THE BOOK OF CHURCH ORDER, PART 1, ARTICLE 1, SECTION 3, CHANGING "PERSONS” (which prior to 1973 in practice encompassed only men) TO "MEN AND WOMEN, AND THAT THE REST OF THE BOOK OF CHURCH ORDER AND THE LITURGY BE BROUGHT INTO CONFORMITY THEREWITH.

R-10 WE RECOMMEND that the General Synod adopt and refer to the classes for their approval an amendment to the Book of Church Order, Part 1, Article 1, Section 3, changing "persons” (which prior to 1973 in practice encompassed only men) to "men and women,” and that the rest of the Book of Church Order and the Liturgy be brought into conformity therewith. (ADOPTED) (See Overtures Report, Pg. 93 and Editorial Committee Report. pg. 200).

The Executive Committee also adopted the following action for the implementation of the advisory statement presented by the President’s Consultation:

“In regard to the process of involving the President’s Consultation members in informing the classes on the significance and necessity for voting on ’the issue of ordaining women to the office of the minister of the Word:

  1. That Dr. Louis Benes, Editor of the Church Herald, be asked to write a news report on the President’s Consultation in concurrence with both Donald De Young, President, and Harry De Bruyn, Chairman of the GSEC.
  2. That we encourage the President to include in his report to General Synod, a pastoral interpretation of the need for a change in the Book of Church Order in regard to the ordination of women to the office of the minister of the Word.
  3. That a planning session of GSEC members be held at General Synod to determine how to involve members of the President’s Consultation at classes sessions where the amendment is to be discussed.
  4. That financing be made available for Consultation members who will visit classes in the fall.

Notes: This is the report of the President’s Consultation to the 1974 General Synod regarding various interpretations of the actions of the 1973 General Synod and the resulting ordination of Joyce Stedge in October, 1973. The 1974 General Synod received seven different overtures to rescind her ordination actions. These were tabled in favor of a church-wide vote on an amendment which would clarify the inclusion of women in ordination. The amendment fell two votes short of the 2/3 majority required for approval. A similar vote in 1975, on the recommendation of the Board of Theological Education, also failed, and two other votes in 1976 and 1977 failed as well.

Rulings on Ordination of Women (1979)

The president called on the general secretary to clarify the nature of the matter before the Synod and to outline the options open to the Synod for dealing with the report of the Judicial Business Committee.

The general secretary stated that according to the Book of Church Order, the matters before the Synod were complaints, not appeals, and that the Synod would deal with the complaints as an assembly, not a judicatory. He then called attention to the possible options for the disposition of the report of the Judicial Business Committee as found in the Book of Church Order (p. 61, Item No. 7).

The general secretary’s interpretation of the Book of Church Order was challenged. The president ruled that the issues before the Synod were complaints.

VOTED: To sustain the ruling of the president.

(Cornelius Dunning requested that the record show that he is not in agreement with the decision that the matters be handled as complaints.). . .

In recapitulation, the matters properly before the Judicial Business Committee were as follows:

1. Should the complaint of the Rev. Martin L. Weitz against the action of the Particular Synod of New York upholding the action of the Classis of Brooklyn in ordaining Valerie DeMarinus Miller to the office of the minister of the Word be upheld or dismissed and the action of the Particular Synod of New York be confirmed or reversed?

2. Should the complaint of the Classis of Albany against the action of the Particular Synod of Albany reversing the action of the Classis of Albany in voting to ordain Joyce Borgman deVelder to the office of minister of the Word be upheld or dismissed and the action of the Particular Synod of Albany be confirmed or reversed?

3. Should the complaint of the Classis of Albany against the action of the Particular Synod of Albany directing the Classis of Albany not to ordain Joyce Borgman deVelder to the office of minister of the Word be upheld or dismissed, and the action of the Particular Synod of Albany be confirmed or reversed?

4. Should the complaint of Elder Henry L. Griswold against the action of the Particular Synod of New Jersey upholding the action of the Classis of Bergen in ordaining Louise Ann Hill-Alto to the office of minister of the Word be upheld or dismissed and the action of the Particular Synod of New Jersey be confirmed or reversed?

In what manner does a committee charged with the responsibility of earnestly and prayerfully pursuing these complaints seek to arrive at its final conclusion and recommendations? In the course of its long and deliberative examination of the substantive aspects of the complaints, it became increasingly clear that all recommendations of the Judicial Business Committee, and ultimately the final action of the General Synod, should properly and solely be based upon a consideration of the question of whether or not the Book of Church Order of the Reformed Church in America permits or does not permit the ordination of women to the office of minister of the Word.

The committee noted that the central point of the complaints is the definition and interpretation of the word “persons” as it is used in the Book of Church Order to define ministers of the Word. (“The ministers of the Word are those persons who have been inducted into that office by ordination in accordance with the Word of God and the order established by the church.” BCO, Chapter I, Part 1, Article 1, Sec. 3.) The arguments of the complaints appears to be that the word “person” has some meaning other than that which it is given in contemporary usage. Since the committee could find no grammatical grounds offered for this interpretation, it addressed itself to the scriptural/theological and historical grounds presented in the complaints.

The committee first determined that the action of the General Synod in 1958 (MGS, p. 328) adopting a report of its Theological Commission, which unequivocally stated that it found no scriptural impediment to the ordination of women to any office in the church, established a position and precedent which still stands. It noted that within our good form of government, the General Synod is a permanent and continuing body whose decisions remain binding until and unless they are rescinded or modified at a subsequent session. The committee therefore considered the scriptural/theological question closed and not subject to debate unless action is taken to rescind the 1958 action of the General Synod.

The committee then addressed itself to the historical question. It found that it could not determine unequivocally what our forefathers meant when they used the word “person.” One may infer certain meanings, but all that can actually be determined is that custom and practice saw no woman ordained for a specific period of time.

The committee then addressed the question whether this custom and practice is binding upon us today. The committee is of the opinion that this custom and practice is not binding on the church today. We have already noted that the theological question concerning the ordination of women was settled in the affirmative by the Synod of 1958. In a church such as ours, reformed and reforming according to the Word of God, custom and practice cannot take precedence over the declaration of the General Synod regarding the meaning of the Scripture.

The General Synod itself has not been bound by custom and practice, but has been guided by its understanding of the meaning of Scripture.

First, it has repeatedly voted for amendments to the Constitution which would clearly and unequivocally declare all the offices of the church open to women.

Further, on each occasion when such action was requested by the classes, the General Synod has in 1973 (MGS, p. 37) and again in 1977 (MGS, p.168) granted dispensations from the professorial certificate to women; thus, opening the way to examination for licensure and ordination.

And, it has in 1974 (MGS, p.97) and in 1976 (MGS, p.115f) taken no action on overtures which would have amended the Book of Church Order, Chapter 1, Part I, Article 1, Sec. 3, in such a way as to limit the office of minister of the Word to men only.

The committee discussed at length whether the amendments to the Book of Church Order proposed by the General Synod throughout the last decade themselves constitute a tacit acknowledgment by the General Synod that the Book of Church Order does in fact require amendment in order to permit the ordination of women to the office of minister of the Word. The committee noted that in 1974 the Classis of Brooklyn abstained from voting and recorded with the General Secretary its position that an amendment was not necessary. When a similar amendment was submitted to the classes by the following Synod, the Classis of Brooklyn agreed to participate in the amending process since the larger church deemed it wise and good but again recorded its opinion that an amendment was not necessary. It followed this same course for report to the Synods of 1976, 1977 and 1978. The committee concurs with the Classis of Brooklyn in its opinion that these recommended amendments were clarifying in nature rather than substantitive.

It should be noted further that in each instance of complaint the respective classes have followed due process leading to ordination. The Book of Church Order gives authority to the classis to examine and ordain a person to the office of minister of the Word providing the candidate has met all the requirements outlined in the Book of Church Order according to the judgment of the classis. It is our finding that in each instance the classes interpreted the Book of Church Order regarding the ordination of persons in good faith and without defiance; they exercised the prerogatives of the classis in the Reformed Church in following the procedure for car, examination, licensure and ordination of a candidate who has met all the requirements of the Book of Church Order. In each instance, all the carefully spelled-out steps of the Book of Church Order and all the requirements of prudent practice have been observed including certification of eligibility for examination by the agent or the General Synod itself.

Therefore, it is the finding of the Judicial Business Committee of this General Synod, that no deliberate, intentional or actual violation of the Book of Church Order took place on the part of the classes complained against. Moreover, we find that in each instance they acted in good faith and in accordance with the requirements of the Book of Church Order.

R-1.

To dismiss the complaint of the Rev. Martin L. Weitz against the Particular Synod of New York and to confirm the action of the Particular Synod of New York upholding the action of the Classis of Brooklyn in ordaining Valerie DeMarinus Miller to the office of minister of the Word. (ADOPTED)

R-2.

To sustain the complaint of the Classis of Albany against the Particular Synod of Albany and to reverse the action of the Particular Synod of Albany directing the Classis of Albany not to ordain Joyce Borgman deVelder to the office of minister of the Word. (ADOPTED)

R-3.

To dismiss the complaint of Elder Henry L. Griswold against the Particular Synod of New Jersey and to confirm the action of the Particular Synod of New Jersey upholding the action of the Classis of Bergen in ordaining Louise Ann Hill-Alto to the office of minister of the Word. (ADOPTED)

NOTE: Upon proper motion and adoption by the Committee, permission was granted for a minority report by Arthur L. Bridgeman to be appended to this report.

On a motion from the floor Synod:

VOTED: To request the General Synod Executive Committee to present the decision relative to the ordination procedures of the several women to the whole denomination as soon as possible in the pages of the Church Herald; their statement to be set in a context that emphasizes our unity as Christ’s church and our continuing need to seek to understand one another better, and that calls upon our people to pray that God’s spirit will ever lead us as a church to a continuing larger service together.

Minority Report Submitted by Arthur Bridgeman

The significant question to be decided by the Committee on Judicial Business in the matter of all complaints before the committee involving the ordination of women as ministers of the Word appears to be: “Does the Book of Church Order permit the ordination of women as ministers of the Word?” Since the Committee has decided this question in the affirmative, Arthur Bridgman requested that the record reflect his voting in the negative for the following reasons:

1 . In the President’s Report to the General Synod of 1977 President Louis Benes stated as follows (MGS, p.29):

The overture before us calls for resubmitting this proposed change to the classes again this year. The overtures committee will wrestle with this proposal, and come with a recommendation. My hope would be that we could wait a year before resubmission. I want, just now, to quote from a letter from the officers of this year’s General Synod, of which I happened to be the author, and a co-signer. I believe that it still speaks to our present situation. “Some people will say that it (this proposed change) is unnecessary, because the present wording of ‘persons’ (in theBook of Church Order)clearly included women. The General Synod has, however, by its repeated recommendation of this proposed change in wording to the classes for their adoption indicated that it recognized that the traditional interpretation of this wording included men only, and that, for the sake of clarity and good order, the orderly process of amendment to the Book of Church Order should be followed in this matter.”

2. Clear logic dictates that the meaning of the word ‘persons’ in referring to ministers of the Word could only mean male persons.

Up until 1972 the Book of Church Order referring to ministers of the Word used the word “persons” and as to elders and deacons provided that they "“shall be chosen from the male members of the church in full communion.”

The obvious question arises as to why it was necessary to restrict elders and deacons to male members of the church and not the ministers of the Word. The minister of the Word has generally been held to hold a higher office in the church than the elders and deacons. For instance, the installed pastor automatically, becomes the president of the consistory.

It is the contention of those who have engaged in the ordination of women as ministers of the Word that the Book of Church Order in using the word “persons” never had prohibited it. However, this does not really face the question as to why ministers of the Word were referred to as “persons” whereas it was felt necessary to clearly restrict elders and deacons to male members of the church. To follow the reasoning of those who are ordaining women as ministers of the Word you would have to believe that in the long history of the Reformed Church in America it has always been allowable to ordain women as ministers of the Word, but not as elders or deacons. This is totally inconceivable and illogical. The only logical explanation is that it has been so generally accepted that ministers of the Word have been limited to male members of the church that it was never considered necessary to set it forth so clearly as with elders and deacons.

Notes: The Committee on Judicial Business was presented with the ordination of several women to the office of Minister of the Word. By dealing with these as complaints and not appeals, the committee was able to make a ruling without submitting the issue of women’s ordination to another church-wide vote. The committee interpreted the Book of Church Order as allowing the ordination of women, and thus sustained the ordinations already performed. This action was viewed by many opponents of women’s ordination as constitutionally questionable.

Resolution on Women's Ordination (1980)

Ordination of Women

From June, 1979, to April, 1980, the General Synod Executive Committee received communications from 14 individuals, I11 churches and 11 classes expressing concern about the action of the 1979 General Synod on the ordination of women to the office of minister of the Word.

Six of these communications were presented as overtures but were not accepted for the agenda by the GSEC since they alleged administrative error by the General Synod of 1979 and were thus judged to be complaints which are prohibited by theBCO (Chapter 11, Part III, Article V, Section 1 ). An additional reason for not accepting five of the overtures was that they asked the Synod either directly, or in effect, to rescind the judgment of the 1979 Synod on complaints submitted to it. Although the General Synod can, in most cases, rescind its legislative actions, it is not at liberty through legislative actions to rescind its judgments on complaints.

Nevertheless, through these letters and other means, the GSEC has recognized that many RCA members are dismayed because of General Synod’s action concerning the ordination of women, even as others are encouraged. The GSEC also noted that the General Synod of 1979 addressed only the question of “whether or not the Book of Church Order of the Reformed Church in America permits or does not permit the ordination of women to the office of minister of the Word”(MGS, p. 67). The question of whether or not the BCO requires the ordination of women to the office of minister of the Word was not before the Synod.

Because the members of the Reformed Church are not of one mind on this question and because our differing opinions are rooted in strong convictions and are accompanied by deep feelings, the following recommendation is presented to the General Synod.

R-4.

(To call for careful avoidance of pressure which might lead either one who supports or one who opposes the action permitting the ordination of women to the office of minister of the Word to offend against his or her conscience, and to urge that no member of the church be penalized for conscientious objection to, or support of, the ordination of women.)

The advisory committee presented the following “Proposal to Maintain Peace in Diversity in the RCA Concerning Women as Church Officers” as a substitute for R-13:

To approve the following amendment to the Book of Church Order and refer it to the Editorial Committee:

a. Amend Part 1, Article 1, Section 3 (BCO, p. 12) by substituting“men and women” for “persons.”

b. Amend Part II, Article 2, Section 7 (BCO, ) p. 24 by adding the following:

If individual members of the classis find that their consciences, as illuminated by Scripture, would not permit them to participate in the licensure, ordination or installation of women as ministers of the Word, they shall not be required to participate in decisions or actions contrary to their consciences, but may not obstruct the classis in fulfilling its responsibility to arrange for the care, ordination, and installation of women candidates and ministers by means mutually agreed on by such women and the classis.

c. Amend Part II, Article 10 (BCO, p. 40) by adding a new section:

Section 15. Ministers of the Word shall not be pressured in such a way as to lead either one who supports or one who opposes, on scriptural grounds, the ordination of women to church offices to offend against his or her conscience. Nor shall any church member be penalized for conscientious objection to, or support of, the ordination of women to church offices. Nor shall any minister of the Word or church member obstruct by unconstitutional means the election, ordination, or installation of a woman to church offices. (ADOPTED AS AMENDED)*

Reasons:

1.To clarify and confirm through constitutional amendments the legality of the ordination of women as ministers of the Word.

2. To protect the rights of conscience of church members and officers and protect the rights of women candidates to ordination.

3. To bring peace in diversity in the RCA over the issue of women in church offices.

On a motion from the floor Synod:

VOTED: To instruct the Advisory Committee on Church Order to send a cover letter along with this recommendation to include:

*Substitution in light face type.

1. background information which resulted in reaching this decision;

2. a statement to the effect that a vote by the classis in favor of this amendment is a vote recognizing who we are as a Reformed Church family - a people diverse yet united in Christ.

3. a statement to the effect that while certain RCA members may not be in favor of women’s ordination personally, they are - by passing this amendment - saying they are in favor of being a member of a denomination that allows (ordination of women) unity in diversity. *

VOTED: That the advisory committee instruct its subcommittee that drafted the substitute recommendation for R-13 to prepare the letter to be sent; that the letter be submitted to the advisory committee for approval; that the approved letter be reported to the General Synod; and that the approved letter be forwarded to the General Secretary’s office for distribution.

The advisory committee presented for approval the following cover letter to be sent with the “Proposal to Maintain Peace in Diversity in the RCA Concerning Women as Church Officers” to all ministers and congregations.

To the Reformed Church Family:

A Proposal to Maintain Peace in Diversity in the RCA Concerning Women as Church Officers

After much deliberation as a committee, we adopted without dissent the enclosed proposal which was presented to the General Synod. After thorough discussion, the Synod adopted it with scarcely any dissent, followed by applause.

We believe that our committee and the Synod, representing varied views of the ordination of women, were satisfied that this represents a workable means of achieving peace with diversity in the Reformed Church in America. Because of our feeling of the tremendous importance of this action, we have asked the Synod for permission to share this information with you.

Sincerely in Christ,

THE ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON CHURCH ORDER

VOTED: To authorize the sending of the cover letter with the “Proposal to Maintain Peace in Diversity in the RCA Concerning Women as Church Officers” to all ministers and congregations.

*Addition in light face type.

Deletion in parentheses.

Notes: This is a report by the Executive Committee recognizing that the previous year’s actions did not resolve the issue of women’s ordination, and that not everyone was satisfied with the means by which those actions took place. In an attempt to ease tensions and to satisfy both sides of the debate, an advisory committee presented a "Proposal to Maintain Peace in Diversity in the RCA Concerning Women As Church Officers.” This proposal sought to amend this Book of Church Order by officially approving women’s ordination (an attempt that had failed many times previously), but it also included a compromise statement for those who objected to the practice. This statement would allow conscientious objectors to women’s ordination to not participate in ordination ceremonies as long as they agreed that they belonged to a church that permitted it. This is the same kind of statement that was denied by the Committee on Overtures in 1973. At the 1981 General Synod, it was reported that this resolution passed with the 30 votes required for a 2/3 majority. The long struggle which began in 1918 was, officially at least, over.


Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

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